Spring is upon us and this season usually starts out wet and cold in March and ends up wet and warmer, in May and June. In Ayerveda, it is also known as the Kapha season – which is characterized by dampness and moisture. As we look around in the early part of the season, we notice the world is slowly coming out of hibernation. The first spring flowers poke their heads above the warmer earth, the radishes are quick to sprout and the birds' almost euphoric singing signals that their spring ritual, mating season, has begun.
Many of us will notice a natural, yet distinct, shift in our cravings as winter gives way to spring. The arrival of warmer weather often marks a decline in our desire for the heavy, substantive foods that are so essential during the winter months and we'll notice an increasingly insistent preference for lighter fare. Appetites may decrease and we may find ourselves craving fresh tree fruit and berries, spring vegetables, and crunchy spring greens. It’s our body’s way of telling us that it’s time for some spring-cleaning. Spring-cleaning is a good idea, inside and out!
As the vegetation that surrounds us begins to awaken and the trees begin to flower, naturally releasing their pollen, people who are susceptible to allergies will undoubtedly feel the effects in their respiratory system. Aside from a shift to a somewhat lighter diet, paying close attention to the ‘tastes’ of spring – bitter, pungent and astringent - can be a big help not only to allay allergies but to create a heightened sense of well being too!
Food can be spicier this time of year and it's also good to add those bitter and astringent tastes. As a quick example, cooked green leafy vegetables are bitter and legumes are astringent. And we encourage you to continue to explore those tastes! Raw honey helps this time of the year too. And add ginger and turmeric to your favored-spices list.
As the bounty of spring is upon us, here are a few key sources of good spring nourishment that have wonderful attributes to support a healthy spring constitution:
CARDAMOM // is one of Ayerveda's classic digestive spices for gas, bloating and constipation. It supports the health of the intestinal tract and respiratory mucus membranes, as well as a healthy intestinal environment for the digestive microbes. Cardamom is the perfect antidote to a heavy, boggy digestive tract which can be exacerbated in the spring. While the spring harvest of lower fat and lighter foods antidotes these tendencies, cardamom offers a digestive boost to the spring digestion process. And it’s a flavor suited to many uses. Chai latté anyone?
CINNAMON // was once one of the most highly sought after commodities in the world. This spice has been in use for thousands of years as a medicine, as an embalming agent, as a means of preserving food, and as a flavoring enhancing spice. The earliest reports of cinnamon date back to ancient Egypt in 2000 B.C. where the Egyptians used both cinnamon and the related spice, cassia, as embalming agents. Cinnamon was also used in the Old Testament as an ingredient in anointing oil.
It’s a perfect antidote to the wet, muddy and congestive properties of spring. According to Ayerveda, cinnamon is a stimulant to boost circulation, naturally warming the body while thinning any excess intestinal and respiratory mucus accumulation.
Perhaps most well-known for its blood sugar-stabilizing properties, cinnamon is also antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antiparasitic. It has been shown to help reduce unwanted blood platelet clotting as well, which can result in inadequate blood flow. It can help to decrease inflammation in the body and also removes blood impurities as it helps to improve blood circulation due to the presence of a blood-thinning compound. It may also help to significantly decrease levels of LDL cholesterol (the ‘bad’ cholesterol), triglycerides, and increase HDL cholesterol (the ‘good’ cholesterol).
Shown to boost the activity of the brain, cinnamon may also aid in removing nervous tension, and prevent memory loss. Researchers have reported that cinnamon improves cognitive abilities such as attention span, virtual recognition memory, working memory, and visual-motor response. Just the aroma or just the taste of cinnamon, can stimulate cognitive function. And the list goes on …. Studies have shown that it may delay the effects of, slow the effects of, and even reverse some of the effects of Alzheimer’s. In addition, some parents are using cinnamon to treat their children with ADHD.
This familiar and comforting spice, that is so welcome in many preparations from breakfast through dessert, is one that we encourage is incorporated into mealtime preparation often!
DANDELION // is a spring-harvested bitter rhizome that offers antioxidant support, healthy liver function and natural detoxification support to the liver in both it’s root form and its greens. Spring is a time where such bitter roots and leaves are harvested in an attempt to naturally encourage the liver to be active in fat metabolism. It’s known specifically for reducing inflammation of the liver which aids the liver in doing its job of detoxifying the body. Dandelion is no longer the front yard ‘weed’ it was once known as!
Dandelions are nature's richest green vegetable source of beta-carotene, from which Vitamin A is created, and the third richest source of Vitamin A of all foods, after cod-liver oil and beef liver! Dandelion greens are also particularly rich in fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and the B vitamins, thiamine and riboflavin, and are a good source of protein.
GARLIC // is an astringent and pungent root that has been shown in numerous studies to boost immunity. In the spring, when the earth is holding onto more water, our bodies will also have a tendency to hold more water and become congested. The spring pollen surge can irritate congested respiratory mucus membranes, increasing the risk of allergies or compromised immunity. Studies show that garlic, among it’s other benefits, is a natural remedy to boost spring immunity and protect the respiratory tract against allergens. The smell of spring garlic wafting through the kitchen is always a welcome sign that dinner is nearly on the table!
GINGER // is a pungent root best known for its digestive properties as well as support for healthy joint function and its well-documented health benefits are abundant. In the spring, pungent roots help the bitter roots scrub the intestinal mucosa. They also increase circulation, which helps antidote the circulatory bogginess of spring. Ginger also supports the coordinated process of the digestive system to break down the more difficult to digest foods like wheat, dairy and fatty foods, all the while supporting the environment for a healthy microbiome.
A recent study from researchers at Columbia University shows purified components of the spicy root also may have properties that help asthma patients breathe more easily. And when the spring air is naturally full of pollen, adding more ginger begins to make even more sense!
From tea to juice to soup to salad dressing, or even a quick stir fry with fresh spring vegetables, ginger is easy to incorporate into a springtime routine.
MICRO GREENS // the young seedlings of edible vegetables and herbs, are harvested less than 14 days after germination. They are usually about 1-3 inches long and come in a rainbow of colors, which has made them popular in recent years as garnishes with chefs - and as flavor accents. But now we see that there is a tremendous nutritional advantage as well since recent studies show their nutritional content is off the charts!
Both bean sprouts and micro greens are loaded with nutrients and play an important role in the spring harvest. While part of the spring harvest depends on bitter roots to scrub the intestines and boost liver function, sprouts and microgreens are loaded with vitamins and chlorophyll, which gives a natural boost to the growth of a healthy microbiome. The microbiome is a subject more and more in the news these days and research continues to show how important a healthy microbiome is to overall health for the long term.
And in terms of overall health, recent studies have shown micro greens, in particular, to possess a much higher concentration of nutrients compared to the full-grown versions of the plants. For example, Researchers found micro greens like red cabbage, cilantro, and radish contain up to 40 times higher levels of vital nutrients than their mature counterparts. Red cabbage micro greens had a 6-fold higher nutrient profile of vitamin C, and 69 times higher concentration of vitamin K than the mature leaves. Cilantro micro greens had three times more beta-carotene than mature cilantro. Time to get out the clippers!
SAFFRON // The crocus flower is often one of the most anticipated heralds of spring. And the dried stigmas of the purple saffron crocus, in particular, are responsible for the delicate saffron that is harvested for culinary and medicinal purposes. It is a highly valued spice for certain, many say the most expensive in the world, since it takes anywhere from 70,000 to 250,000 flowers to make one pound of saffron.
Aside from its culinary attributes, saffron has a long medicinal history as part of traditional healing. It is often used to reduce fevers, cramps and to calm the nerves. In Ayerveda, it is considered to be one of the most powerful and medicinal foods in nature’s harvest and is said to boost vitality, skin radiance and immunity. Today, there are numerous studies offering sound evidence that saffron does indeed offer powerful support for the nervous system, mood and emotionally stability.
More recent studies have even shown it to have anti-carcinogenic (cancer-suppressing) properties, anti-mutagenic (mutation-preventing) and antioxidant properties. It may also be helpful for depression and to protect the eyes, slowing down macular degeneration.
Those cultures with a strong affinity for paella and bouilliabaisse have known it’s a worthwhile ingredient for centuries!
TUMERIC // is a spring-harvested bitter rhizome (surface root) that is a natural cleanser for the liver and intestinal wall. Studies have shown it boosts detox enzymes like glutathione and superoxide dismutase. Bitter roots scrub the intestinal wall and boost liver function, bile flow and blood purification. It’s a well-accepted anti-inflammatory agent too, a property that comes from the curcumin it contains. It’s important to always include a bit of black pepper when eating turmeric to provide the formula necessary for the body to absorb the curcumin optimally.
WATERCRESS // an aquatic plant found near springs and slow-moving streams, is an often-overlooked, leafy green food source that is a close cousin to mustard greens, cabbage, and arugula. It is a modern superfood most noted for its antioxidant properties, and cellular and DNA-protective properties. It is one of the most bitter and slightly pungent vegetables around. Watercress is a low fat, low calorie, nutrient-dense cleansing food.
It’s important to note that while watercress is now considered a superfood, it was noted for its medicinal properties all the back to the time of Hippocrates, around 400BC.
Watercress earned its reputation as a healing herb quite early. Hippocrates located the first hospital on the island of Kos close to a stream to ensure that fresh watercress would be available for treating patients. In the 1700s, Nicholas Culpeper (author of Culpeper’s Herbal) believed watercress could cleanse the blood.
Modern science has identified more than 15 essential vitamins and minerals contained in this one herb – more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk, and more vitamin C than oranges, as well as significant amounts of magnesium, potassium and copper.
Vitamin K is by far the most prominent nutrient in watercress, with 312% of the daily recommended value. It forms and strengthens the bones and limits neuronal damage in the brain, which is helpful in treating Alzheimer’s disease. There’s also vitamin C, with 72% of the daily value, closely followed by vitamin A with 64%. Vitamin C provides top-notch infection-fighting power to stave off colds and flu, help maintain healthy connective tissue, and prevent iron deficiency. Vitamin A, also known as retinol, is essential for a properly functioning immune system and produces pigments in the retina of the eye, an absence of which can cause night blindness.
And we also now know that a daily dose of watercress may have the ability to significantly reduce DNA damage to blood cells and further to resist DNA damage caused by free radicals among other significant anticancer properties, as reported in the results of a two-year research project at the University of Ulster.
One of the best culinary aspects of watercress is its versatility. It can be used as a salad green (a very nutritious one!) with other lettuce or fresh spinach, steamed and eaten as a vegetable, and in soups for a subtle, peppery flavor. It’s also a standard ingredient for sandwiches in Britain for both common and high tea.
Wrap up - The Spring Constitution
Enjoy the weather, the songbirds, the sunshine and the spring showers. Lighten up your nourishment and indulge in those tastes that are bitter, pungent and astringent with joy and curiosity. Make the most of the season that sets us up for the summer to come!